THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

Ten Big Headers

And that's your lot. According to new guidance from the FA, professional footballers in England should be limited to "a maximum of ten higher force headers" per week in training.
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What's a higher force header? Well, they are "typically headers following a long pass (more than 35m) or from crosses, corners and free kicks". You can also measure them by whether a manager on the touchline does an air header at the same time, though for some reason the FA left that out of their announcement.
Symbolically, this feels extremely significant. While football has been getting a little bit better at dealing with head injuries after they happen — players even get taken off occasionally — this is different. This is a pre-emptive move. Getting at head injuries before they happen. And it is an acknowledgement in policy of what has been known for a while: that over time, even the ordinary stuff of football is dangerous.
The FA reckon the majority of heading occurs in training; accordingly, that's where they're focusing. All those hours spent drilling corner patterns, all those carefully crafted free kick routines: gone. If you listen carefully you can hear Tony Pulis sobbing as he throws fistfuls of paper onto a roaring bonfire. His life's work, flames. Ashes and sparks.

Headers will be limited in training according to new FA guidance

Image credit: Getty Images

These are recommendations, and it's not immediately clear how, if at all, the FA intends to police this. The hope, presumably, is that the seriousness of the subject will exert its own pressures. Clubs are being encouraged to develop player profiles that consider gender, age, position, and how much heading a player typically does, which sounds like a fair amount of work, particularly lower down the leagues.
This is the beginning of a process. More research is happening, more guidance will be coming in 2022. In the meantime, perhaps we can all agree to be a little kinder the next time our chosen central defender sends another free header over the bar. It's not that they've got a head shaped like a 50 pence piece. They're just under-practiced, and it's better that way.

Oops, Hoops

The Champions League qualifiers are brutal things. While the rest of European football is pottering around with friendlies, working on fitness and ignoring results, a handful of teams have to play the most important game of the season. And half of those teams have to lose.
Like Celtic just did. After a 1-1 draw against FC Midtjylland in Glasgow they needed a win in Denmark, and they had the lead for 13 minutes, before it all went wrong. 1-1 after an hour, 2-1 down in extra time, and done.
All of which amounts to the worst possible start for Ange Postecoglu. Celtic's new coach will likely escape much of the immediate blame, since the average age of his starting eleven — a mere 21 — rather screamed "Help! Help! I need some new players!" Ones that aren't in quarantine, ideally. Not being in the Champions League will make attracting those players harder, but it should at least help Postecoglu make his case.
I take responsibility. I'm the person who has been put in charge. We haven't got players in, I obviously haven't done a good enough job convincing people we needed to bring people in. … I have been trying to be as forceful as I can about what we need to bring in, and the challenges we have had are well chronicled.
Still, at least Postecoglu now has a bit of time to work with his squad, and for those new players to arrive. Celtic don't kick off their league campaign until [checks notes] oh. Oh dear. Hearts away on Saturday. And then a Europa League qualifier in a week. Going to need a few more of these from Callum McGregor.

Més que un cluBBB

Weird evening last night. There we were, mug of tea in hand, idly watching the highlights of the horse-dancing. But no sooner had the German favourite begun their final piaffe, the phone rang. It was Joan Laporta! "Sorry to interrupt the dressage," he said, "but I thought you should know that FC Barcelona has the confidence of credit rating agencies. Cheers!"
No sooner had he rung off, then the doorbell went. It was Joan Laporta! Again! "Just to reiterate," he said. "Our triple-B-negative rating is stable. Well, see you." And off he went. Naturally, we opened Twitter immediately. And what did we see? This!
Now, the world of finance is a mystery to the Warm-Up. But we do know the alphabet, and the meanings of several words. So when we look at the phrase "a stable triple B negative credit rating" we think, first of all, those B's could be A's, right? Even a single A would be better. And, while we here, "positive" would be much better than "negative".
As for "stable", well, it's never great when that needs saying. If somebody walks up to you and says "Hello, I feel incredibly fine," you get ready to catch them. So when a football club puts out a statement explaining that the giant pile of burning cash behind the curtain is, in fact, good … well, we're sure everything will be okay. Triple-B-negative. Stable. Says so right there on the internet.

IN OTHER NEWS

Some footballers are better in certain moments. There are those who step up in the big games: cup finals, title deciders, relegation six-pointers. And then there's Andreas Pereira, who is the greatest footballer in the world, as long as the football doesn't matter.

RETRO CORNER

Happy birthday to Mircea Lucescu, winner of all sorts of trophies with all manner of clubs. Here's his Shakhtar Donetsk side winning the 2009 Uefa Cup. Doesn't Willian look young? Doesn't Fernandinho tackle just like Fernandinho? Don't the goalkeepers wish you weren't watching this back?

HAT TIP

Yesterday, a coroner in Liverpool ruled that Andrew Devine, who sustained life-altering injuries at Hillsborough in 1989 and who died this week at the age of 55, was unlawfully killed. He therefore becomes the 97th victim of the Hillsborough disaster. Here's David Conn and Robyn Vinter for the Guardian, providing background and context.
Devine was 22 years old when he went to the game in 1989. His injuries were so severe that doctors initially told his family he would be unlikely to survive the day. … Though he could not communicate and needed 24-hour personal care, he became well known among the fans and the players of his beloved Liverpool football club. In 2019, his home was visited by Liverpool’s open top bus during the parade of the city when the team won the Champions League at the request of the vice-captain James Milner.

COMING UP

Lots of Europa Conference qualifying, if you can find a way to watch it. Otherwise, it's time for some [spins big wheel of Olympic sports] artistic gymnastics!
Assuming he lands all his double saltos, Mike Hincks will be here with tomorrow's Warm-Up
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